Wednesday, September 30, 2009

LONDON – After five wins in five league games, a 5-2 away victory in the Champions League and Cristiano Ronaldo's five goals in four games, it looks like Real Madrid's offseason spending spree was worth it.
The Spanish football giant went deeply into debt to sign Ronaldo, Kaka, Karim Benzema and Xabi Alonso for about $360 million, figuring it was the most effective way to try to take both the domestic and European titles away from rival Barcelona.
Real Madrid's Kaka from Brazil, second left, is greeted by teammates ...

With UEFA warning that clubs that go heavily into debt to buy players might eventually be stripped of their licenses, Madrid's timing appeared ideal.
Even though it has seemingly bottomless credit limits from banks who dare not say "No" to one of the game's most famous clubs, Madrid has announced plans to reduce its debt on a steady basis over the next few years. It hopes it can eventually satisfy UEFA's insistence that clubs must break even on soccer-related business by 2012.
It is a calculated gamble, the sort Real Madrid has been famous for over 50 years of winning titles.
If Madrid gets close to that break even figure, surely European football's governing body wouldn't dare punish the club which has won its biggest competition the most times. While Real Madrid has done well out of the European Cup — now the Champions League — the Spanish club's tradition of buying the biggest stars has also lifted the profile of UEFA's own competition.
By 2012, Madrid hopes to have won at least one Spanish title and a Champions League to justify spending that director general Jorge Valdano says is just the Real Madrid way.
"Real Madrid is the world's richest club," Valdano said after one of the signings. "This is a team that can't aspire to be in the middle, it's a team that historically has always aspired to lead and it's impossible to aspire to lead without the best players in the world."
So far, the gamble appears to have worked.
Although the arrival of such big names inevitably put pressure on them and the club, Madrid has had a near perfect start.
The team is neck-and-neck with Barcelona at the top of the standings and only leads its rival by virtue of conceding one goal fewer. Both clubs have won their first five games and, although it is early, it's difficult to see the title going to one of their rivals.
On Wednesday, Madrid hopes to follow up its 5-2 victory at FC Zurich with another Group C victory over Marseille, this time at home. The triumph in Zurich also included two trademark free kick goals from Ronaldo, who moved from Manchester United for $131 million, a fee that broke the record Madrid had just paid for Kaka.
Although Madrid has sold Dutch players Arjen Robben, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Wesley Sneijder to reduce its huge squad, it still has plans to buy Franck Ribery from Bayern Munich if the German club ever decides to sell the France winger.
That transfer, if it happens, won't be before the January transfer window. By then Real Madrid should have a good idea where its season is going.
It should have reached the knockout phase of the Champions League and know its opponent in the last 16. It will be well aware what it needs to do to take the Spanish league title away from Barcelona.
If the first few weeks are a guide, then the big spending — no matter how outrageous it looks to clubs who struggle to stay in business — will satisfy the Madrid fans' clamor for titles.
And, while rivals will complain and say that Madrid is only buying those titles, they might also look on with envious eyes and wonder why they didn't take the same gamble.

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